I Remember The Costume

February 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

La Commedia dell'Arte

It was, in retrospect, a magnificent costume.

I wore it only once. And yet I remember it vividly, not at all because of its unique quality –  an acquaintance of my mother’s from the Paris Opera costume department had agreed to loan it for a day – but rather because I was truly embarrassed to wear it.

I was about seven years old and it was Mi-Carême in Paris. My mother had received an invitation for me to attend a child’s costume party  from our upstairs neighbors in the building where we lived. I did not know them but I remember that I was fascinated by the mother’s extreme elegance when I would get a glimpse of her in the elevator. (I found out much later that she had been the publisher of the Number One fashion magazine in France.)

I realize now that  my mother must have given much thought to finding an appropriate costume for such an occasion! However, she certainly did not bother to consult me on the matter . . .

I went dressed . . . as a ZOUAVE!!!!

zouave-1888-1(1) vincent van gogh

Yes! A perfect replica of the 19th century soldier’s uniform, in my size, made of velvet, with gold trim and tassels, complete with white silk gaiters and shiny black slippers! Plus a red Fez that I had to keep on my head the whole darn embarrassing time.

I was mortified! I remember my almost paralyzing embarrassment while walking along the street in my neighborhood that afternoon. With my mother holding my hand and dragging me to the tea salon where the party was taking place, I desperately hoped none of my schoolmates would pass by and recognize me.
le petit zouave

It felt like a nightmare, with strangers looking at me, smiling and turning around to watch where we were going. I did not know what a Zouave was, and even less that I was wearing a boy’s costume (though I could pass for one as I was a skinny, lanky child with a bob haircut).

The gender confusion would have become a forgotten detail except that it was what brought on my first “romantic fiasco.” I have no recollection of the party.  Merriment, dazzling costumes, fancy petits fours, nothing comes back to mind except this: there was this dashing boy in a Robin Hood costume and I badly wanted him to notice me. But he was looking at girls only . . .

Pierrot by Jean-Antoine Watteau

A Cake For The Kings

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

In case you had missed my post  published last year on January 6th about the “Galette des Rois”  I am re-posting it today in relation to my brother in law Ralph Gardner Jr ‘s wonderful  article for his column in The Wall Street Journal which was published this morning under the title: ‘A Treat Fit for a King’

Growing up in France, one of my favorite celebrations was on or around January 6th. “Tirer les Rois” or “drawing the kings” is a festival when families, friends, colleagues and anybody who wants to put a paper crown on their king or queen’s head share a cake called Galette Des Rois.

The Drawing of the Kings game goes back to a tradition observed during the Roman Saturnalia celebration symbolizing the return of increasing daylight and of the sun itself. A drawing of either a black or white bean from a special cake would mean one would be King for the Day. The cake itself  is a symbol of the sun.

Christians have made it a holiday to celebrate Epiphany and The Adoration of the Magi since around the tenth century.

The cake tradition has remained throughout these times, surviving banishments as pagan rituals, until today, where in France, it is very much alive.

If you happen to be in Paris around January the 6th you might have to go through much trouble if you do not want to appear in public with a paper crown on your head.

Often it can be an awkward and comical situation, in which you are expected to choose your king or queen among the revelers sharing the delicious galette with you. That is IF you are lucky enough to draw the slice of cake in which a “fève” or bean has been inserted by the baker, and find that fève at the risk of breaking your teeth (I am not aware of anyone suing bakers for this yet). I wonder if someone has ever willingly swallowed it and thus saved face at the price of anonymously causing quite a commotion among the befuddled, angry guests deprived of a fève in their galette.

The odds in successfully skipping this regal affair  would definitely be against you given that such events take place all around France, on average five times a day and for 8 days at least.

Believe me, it can get old after a while. Just think for a minute of doing this among colleagues at the office or with the co-tenants in your building…

I’ve heard that the only sure way to avoid such a “silly chore” is to be invited to stay for the entire time at the Elysée Palace, where the crowning of the galette king is banned, as it is considered anathema to the Republic.

As a child I loved everything about it. The shining crown. The sweet warm cake.  And the “Fève” of course, a talisman of childhood.

I so vividly remember the beautiful tiny painted porcelain figurines: a swaddled baby, an adoring king, a toy or a Fleur de Lys.

Now they are also made of plastic, representing movie stars, cartoon characters, company logos or even, I bet, all kinds of jokes, bawdy allusions or political satires.

I have been keeping the Drawing Of The King tradition alive here at home ever since my children were born.

I make the galette from a traditional northern France recipe and, over the years, have collected paper crowns and Fèves looted during my winter trips to Paris.

My children are now adults or over 16, but the feast has not yet become old or lame. My kids still like the galette. And so does my husband.

I suspect however that for my kids, choosing a queen or a king has become a tad corny. Until, as parents themselves, they remember their childhood…

A “Girl Restaurant” in Paris

April 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Quartier des Abbesses, at the foot of the Hill of Montmartre, feels like a old French village. With its cobblestone streets winding up and down, its cottage houses, ateliers, small rickety whitewashed buildings and colorful vintage storefronts, it evokes the old Paris of Eugène Atget or Robert Doisneau.

Recently settled by young and trendy Parisians who brought along myriad small designer stores, cafes, galleries, vintage shops and tiny bookstores, the Quartier des Abbesses has retained its family neighborhood aspect by keeping its long established produce, cheese, bread shops and Sunday markets.

A rare instance of the best of both worlds for a capital city, I thought.

This is where Véronique and I, starving and exhausted from our lenghtly explorations, found what we called a “Girl Restaurant”:  a place for a quick and inexpensive lunch of homemade soups, salads and desserts.

At 62 rue d’Orsel in the Eighteenth Arrondissement, MILK (Mum In Her Little Kitchen) is a tiny, quirky, bright and colorful place, decorated with a wonderful collection of vintage kitchen items straight from my childhood and serving delicious “mom’s kitchen” food.

Our new secret lunch place in Paris…

A Cake For The Kings

January 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

Growing up in France, one of my favorite celebrations was on or around January 6th. “Tirer les Rois” or “drawing the kings” is a festival when families, friends, colleagues and anybody who wants to put a paper crown on their king or queen’s head share a cake called Galette Des Rois.

The Drawing of the Kings game goes back to a tradition observed during the Roman Saturnalia celebration symbolizing the return of increasing daylight and of the sun itself. A drawing of either a black or white bean from a special cake would mean one would be King for the Day. The cake itself  is a symbol of the sun.

Christians have made it a holiday to celebrate Epiphany and The Adoration of the Magi since around the tenth century.

The cake tradition has remained throughout these times, surviving banishments as pagan rituals, until today, where in France, it is very much alive.

If you happen to be in Paris around January the 6th you might have to go through much trouble if you do not want to appear in public with a paper crown on your head.

Often it can be an awkward and comical situation, in which you are expected to choose your king or queen among the revelers sharing the delicious galette with you. That is IF you are lucky enough to draw the slice of cake in which a “fève” or bean has been inserted by the baker, and find that fève at the risk of breaking your teeth (I am not aware of anyone suing bakers for this yet). I wonder if someone has ever willingly swallowed it and thus saved face at the price of anonymously causing quite a commotion among the befuddled, angry guests deprived of a fève in their galette.

The odds in successfully skipping this regal affair  would definitely be against you given that such events take place all around France, on average five times a day and for 8 days at least.

Believe me, it can get old after a while. Just think for a minute of doing this among colleagues at the office or with the co-tenants in your building…

I’ve heard that the only sure way to avoid such a “silly chore” is to be invited to stay for the entire time at the Elysée Palace, where the crowning of the galette king is banned, as it is considered anathema to the Republic.

As a child I loved everything about it. The shining crown. The sweet warm cake.  And the “Fève” of course, a talisman of childhood.

I so vividly remember the beautiful tiny painted porcelain figurines: a swaddled baby, an adoring king, a toy or a Fleur de Lys.

Now they are also made of plastic, representing movie stars, cartoon characters, company logos or even, I bet, all kinds of jokes, bawdy allusions or political satires.

I have been keeping the Drawing Of The King tradition alive here at home ever since my children were born.

I make the galette from a traditional northern France recipe and, over the years, have collected paper crowns and Fèves looted during my winter trips to Paris.

My children are now adults or over 16, but the feast has not yet become old or lame. My kids still like the galette. And so does my husband.

I suspect however that for my kids, choosing a queen or a king has become a tad corny. Until, as parents themselves, they remember their childhood…

Cy Twombly

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cy Twombly died yesterday in Rome.
He was one of my favorite contemporary painters. His work was pure poetry for me.

His father “Cy” was nicknamed after CY Young as he pitched for the White Socks.

He liked the work of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

I wonder what the work of the artist who will like Cy Twombly in 400 years will look like.

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